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2021 Tesla Model S review: Our expert's take
Tesla’s vehicles have always carried a futuristic, minimalist styling vibe, and the all-electric automaker is doubling down on that with an interior refresh for the Model S sedan and Model X SUV that include a steering wheel with a truncated rim as well as the absence of some key equipment, like a gear selector. Additionally, extra-powerful new Plaid and, for the Model S, Plaid Plus models join the updated interior as part of the refreshes.
These updates should comprise the vast majority of available models, though not necessarily all of them — a representative on Tesla’s consumer site told us there are Model S examples in Tesla inventory “that were built before the updates.” Outside, styling changes are minor and limited to a new front bumper design with tweaked air intakes, a restyled rear diffuser and new wheel designs.
Inside, the changes are much bigger. They’re anchored by the new steering wheel that’s missing the top portion of the rim (think K.I.T.T. from “Knight Rider”) and a revised central multimedia screen; the large 17-inch screen now sits horizontally instead of its previous vertical orientation. Tesla says the system is more powerful, claiming it allows for in-car gaming on par with today’s newest consoles. Model S backseat and Model X second-row passengers get a smaller screen with the same multimedia and gaming functions; wireless controller compatibility is also possible from any seat, the automaker said.
In a controversial move, the new steering wheel has a blocky U-shape, but what it adds in aesthetics, it risks losing in functionality. There are no steering wheel stalks like there were with the gear-selector and turn-signal stalks on prior models; those functions have now been absorbed by touch buttons on the steering block. In a statement, Tesla says the move to this curious setup puts “the ultimate focus on driving: no stalks, no shifting.” Since shifting is an integral part of driving, we have questions about this, but we’ll reserve judgment until we can test it.
The lineups orderable on Tesla’s configurator as of this writing start with the Long Range, which in both the Model S and Model X has 670 horsepower, two motors and all-wheel drive. Tesla says the Model S Long Range sprints from 0-60 mph in 3.1 seconds, has a top speed of 155 mph and 412 miles of driving range on a full battery; the Model X will do 0-60 in 3.8 seconds and has a range of 360 miles. The sedan starts at $81,190, while the SUV starts at $91,190.
Upgrade to the Plaid model (another “Spaceballs” reference on top of the movie tie-in for Tesla’s Ludicrous Speed) for a third motor, adding up to 1,020 hp and an absurd 1.99-second 0-60 time, 200-mph top speed and 390 miles of range in the Model S and 2.5-second 0-60, 163-mph top speed and 340 miles of range in the Model X. Both body styles start at $121,190.
And because that might not be enough, there’s the Model S Plaid Plus. Tesla says it pumps out more than 1,100 hp and will hit 60 mph in less than 1.99 seconds. It has a top speed of 200 mph, 520 miles of range and a steep $141,190 price. (Range estimates appear strictly Tesla’s for now; as of this writing, the EPA’s published ranges for the 2021 Model S have yet to match.)
The 2021 Model S Long Range and Plaid models go on sale in March, with Plaid Plus models coming in late 2021. The 2021 Model X variants, meanwhile, go on sale in April.
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